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Coleman v. Los Angles County Sheriff's Dep't

July 8, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret A. Nagle United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a civil rights complaint, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on June 14, 2010 ("Complaint").

Congress has mandated that courts perform an initial screening of civil rights actions brought by prisoners with respect to prison conditions and/or that seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. The Court "shall" dismiss a prisoner civil rights action if the Court concludes that the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks relief against a defendant who is immune from suit.

28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1). In screening such a complaint, the Court must construe the allegations of the complaint liberally and must afford the plaintiff the benefit of any doubt. See Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dep't, 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988). A pro se litigant must be given leave to amend his or her complaint unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint cannot be cured by amendment. Id.; Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448 (9th Cir. 1987).


Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at the Ironwood State Prison. (Complaint at 1.) His claims arose while he was a pretrial detainee in the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department ("Sheriff's Department"). (Id.) The Sheriff's Department is the sole defendant. (Id.)

Plaintiff alleges that, on June 11, 2009, at the Antelope Valley courthouse in Lancaster, a deputy performing a body search hit him three times in the groin area. (Complaint at 1, 2.)*fn1 When plaintiff asked why he had been hit, the deputy told him to shut up and then put plaintiff's hands behind his back and squeezed his fingers. (Id.) Deputies started hitting plaintiff in the face and head with a flashlight; one deputy hit plaintiff in the face with a fist; another deputy grabbed plaintiff's arm, hit it with a flashlight, and broke it; and plaintiff was pepper-sprayed and shot with a taser. (Id. at 1, 5.)

Plaintiff did not receive adequate medical care for his injuries, and it was ten months before he received surgery for his arm. (Complaint at 1.) Initially, jail personnel did not believe that plaintiff's arm was broken, and he did not receive a cast for five days. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff's arm would not heal and, ultimately, physicians had to insert a titanium plate into it. (Id. at 1, 5.) Plaintiff's face was pink from pepper spray for days, his head hurt from being hit with so many flashlights, and his wrist hurt from handcuffs. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff's head and wrist remain painful, and he consequently has to take pain medication. (Id.)

Plaintiff contends that deputies used excessive force against him when there was no reason to use any force at all. (Complaint at 1, 5.) He further contends that he did not receive adequate medical care. (Id. at 1.) He seeks damages. (Id. at 6.)



Plaintiff has not sued the deputies who beat him, either as named defendants or as Doe defendants. The sole defendant named in the Complaint is the Sheriff's Department.

To allege a Section 1983 claim against an individual defendant, a plaintiff need only allege a constitutional deprivation inflicted on him by that defendant. To allege a Section 1983 claim against a local governmental entity such as the Sheriff's Department, however, more is needed. Plaintiff must allege a constitutional deprivation and a policy, custom, or practice of the municipality that was the "moving force" of the constitutional deprivation. Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694-95, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2037-38 (1978); Villegas v. Gilroy Garlic Festival Ass'n, 541 F.3d 950, 957 (9th Cir. 2008); Galen v. County of Los Angeles, 477 F.3d 652, 667 (9th Cir. 2007).

A local governmental entity such as the Sheriff's Department "may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents. Instead, it is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983." Monell, 436 U.S. at 694, 98 S.Ct. at 2037-38. Thus, a local governmental entity is not liable for the acts of its employees unless "the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted or promulgated by that body's officers" or unless the alleged constitutional ...

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